So I am here, if not to defend Bode's honor, then at least to scream: "Enough!"
Bode Miller did not proclaim himself the golden boy or star of this Olympics. I never saw him make brash predictions. I never heard him talk trash about his opponents. And neither did you. The fact is that the media anointed Miller as the star in waiting, and for at least some good reasons -- he was the defending overall World Cup alpine champion and he had the sort of depth of talent and versatility that he was a legitimate threat in all of the alpine events (Downhill, Super G, Giant Slalom, Slalom, and combined, which calls for one downhill run and two trips down the slalom course). And when Miller failed to medal, the same media that anointed him the star proclaimed him a loser and worse.
Yet what did Miller do that was so awful? He enjoyed himself -- imagine that. A guy makes the Olympics, decides to make the most of it, and decides, on his own, in an individual sport, that while he would love to win, he would not do so at the expense of the experience. And when he comes up short, after skiing in his typical hellbent for leather style, he is not apologetic, largely because he does not owe any of us a damned thing. Here is the deal: It is one thiong to celebrate the US Olympic team. It is quite another honestly to equate the Olympic effort with patriotism, with proxy war. Bode Miller is a fine skier, and one who may well come out of the Olympics hungry to win the World Cup again, either in individual events or overall. And I hope that he does. But unlike, say, soldiers, Bode Miller does not owe the Amereican people a thing. He does not owe us a gold medal. He does not owe us any particular approach to his sport. He does not owe us some sportswriter's concept of humility or of self-flagellation after giving it his best but coming up short (is finishing 4th in the world, or 6th in the world, somehow shameful? That's what Bode did in two of his events, in a sport where the difference between 1st and 6th is usually well less than a second?).
Some are making a big deal out of his Nike contract, as if independent of the Olympics Bode Miller has not earned endorsement deals, and as if those critics are anywhere near as good in their profession as Miller is at his (and as if Olympic athletes always live up to the expectations we impose upon them).
Bode Miller tried and failed. And he may not have responded to that failure in the way that some focus group sitting at home and, more likely than not, NOT watching the Olympics, would have liked. But in the end, so what? He is young. He will probably be there in Vancouver in 2010. And I, for one, will be rooting for him.
Two other quick Olympic notes:
I am somewhat tired of hearing about what a failure this Olympics was for the US team because we did not meet our medal count from Salt Lake City. Home Olympic teams always surpass their regular standards. But beyond that, the 25 medals we brought home far surpassed the second highest total Americans have ever accumulated in a winter games. And it was the second most medals in these games, behind Germany, a traditional winter Olympics powerhouse. When people brand these games a disappointment, what I am hearing from them is three things: They know the US hockey team did not win anything. They heard about Bode Miller and are jumping on that bandwagon. They are freaking morons.
Finally, enough about Shani Davis and the speedskating relay team. Speedskating relays are not like the relays in track and field, where the teams work together leading up to the games. From all I can tell, the process in that sport is very much ad hoc and traditionally the teams are thrown together. Hedrick's desire to maximize his own medal tallies is no reason to throw Davis under the bus. Shani Davis does not owe anyone anything. He did not pull out after promising to be part of the relay. He did not pull out after training together with a set group of guys for four years. He did not pull out at all -- he never committed to the relay event. Meanwhile he accomplished something significant -- not only by winning a gold medal, which for any athlete has to be the pinnacle of a lifetime's worth of work, but by doing so and in the process becoming the first black athlete to win an Olympic medal at the Winter Games. Let's leave the man alone, and let's admire what he did in the events in which he did skate, and not hold against him what happened in an event in which he never intended to.